(Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Friday issued an order delegating further authority to its staff in absence of a quorum on the Commission starting Feb. 4.
FERC needs at least three of the five commissioners to have a quorum. It will only have two commissioners, Cheryl LaFleur and Colette Honorable, once commissioner Norman Bay leaves on Friday.
Last week, President Donald Trump appointed LaFleur as acting chairman, which prompted Bay, the former chairman, to announce he would step down on Feb. 3.
Changes at the top of FERC prompted several energy firms to request the agency make decisions this week on proposed natural gas pipelines to avoid potential construction delays.
FERC on Thursday approved construction of Energy Transfer Partners LP's <ETP.N> Rover gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to Ontario.
Other companies hoping for decisions this week include units of Spectra Energy Corp <SE.N> <SEP.N> on the Nexus pipeline, Williams Cos Inc <WMB.N> <WPZ.N> on Atlantic Sunrise, TransCanada Corp <TRP.TO> on Leach and National Fuel Gas Co <NFG.N> on Northern Access.
As part of the delegation to the staff, FERC said the Director of the Office of Energy Market Regulation can accept and suspend rate filings, take action on uncontested filings and can accept settlements not contested by any party.
The Commission said on Friday it "anticipates that it will lack a quorum for an indeterminate period in the near future."
The Commission said the additional authority granted to agency staff will last until the Commission again has a quorum and moves to lift the delegation order.
When regulated entities make rate filings that, in the absence of Commission action, would take effect without suspension, refund protection or the ability for protesting parties to appeal, the Commission said its general practice has been not to allow that to happen.
By issuing the order Friday, the Commission said it intends to ensure that FERC staff has authority to prevent such filings from taking effect during the no-quorum period.
FERC also said staff can extend the time for action on matters where it is permitted by statute.
(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Chris Reese)